Tuesday, July 31, 2007


You don’t have to be the author of much more than a term paper or book report to understand the difficulty transitions pose for the writer. Sliding seemingly seamlessly from one scene, concept, or thought to another can be jarring. Choppy. Sloppy.

I’m sure my sister would be happy if I were to report some sort of breakthrough or insight into the mastery of the craft, as she has encountered some tricky transitional elements in a novel she has undertaken; however, the only wisdom I can impart comes from the hard-knocks school of first-hand experience, and I can’t say I’m impressed with the curriculum.

Transitions can’t be simple on paper, because there’s nothing simple about them.

In Stranger than Fiction, Dustin Hoffman’s character, Professor Hilbert, explains to the Harold Crick, the protagonist who hears a voice narrating his life, that plots are driven forward by action. For instance, he explained, exiting his office continues his story--the story of him through the door. On the other hand, staying in the room would halt the plot altogether.

When I woke up this morning, I was tempted not to advance my plot. At the time, it seemed preferable to let my story just kind of drift off—you know, go back to sleep and avoid the next scene.

I decided I liked the vacation passages of my story, and I really wasn’t all that interested in opening the scene with the laundry and dirty camping equipment set in the house with no food. I wasn’t too jazzed about the heavy rain and rolling thunder backdrop, either.

I realized that in upcoming chapters, I’d no longer be driving a new car, but rather a slightly scarred model with a vanishing warranty. Furthermore, with a full time course load and a lot of field work on the horizion, the plot is taking a decisive turn in a direction that seems to involve a lot of work.

Having served their purpose, foreshadowing devices--the map on the kitchen door, covered in stickers marking our route; the now-depleted collection jar on the counter where we used to dump our change to fund our journey— would have no longer hold meaning.

In short, the pultzer-prize quality plotline I’d been following for the past month ran cold, and I just couldn't find a good lead with the material with which I was left.

Fortunately, I have hoarded dozens of writers’ magazines addressing sticky transitions, and I knew the articles all offered the same advice.

If you don’t know exactly how to get your characters from point A to point B, you just have to go to the next thing you do know. Press forward. Get the characters moving--or at least out of bed. Just keep typing--or cleaning out coolers as the case may be--and sooner or later, you’ll hit on something.

In the meantime, I discovered that coffee has the ability to smooth over even the rockiest of transitions. After the first pot, I had the sense to throw a little bit of foreshadowing into the otherwise dreary scene by dumping all the change I found into the collection jar. The glass is nearly half full.


Steve said...

I just have one question in regards to the aforementioned pot of coffee....did you consume said pot in it's yourself ?? If so, i say....WOW, that's alot of coffee....

Jen said...

Coffee makes anything better.. that is one thing I learned from you Cindy.. and its one of the most important life lessons I think I ever learned.. that.. and how to make and drink a great cup of coffee.. which I also learned from you..

Catherine Wannabe said...

Nuts. The title immediately had me excited. I was looking forward to a primer of sorts. Oh, well.

Good for you to start filling the jar! We can always save for that sister trip to Hawaii you read about earlier in the summer...


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